So I was sitting on a corner stool in the Arizona Café a few nights ago-drinking and thinking about some really bad stuff that happened earlier in the day-when this older gentleman sitting cater-corner to me starts bending my ear with a minute-by-minute account of his afternoon on the sport fishing boat.
I was in no mood.
Earlier that day everything had gone into the toilet, see, and night had come, and I found myself caught inside that treacherous emotional paradox between when you "need to be alone" and you "really just can't be alone right now" all at the same time.
That is why I chose the Arizona. Nobody really knows me at the Arizona, except Little Joe the bartender, and he's usually too busy, or too smart to talk your ear off all night, so you get these great hit-and-run conversations. Like Little Joe will say, "How're things at your bar?" and I'll answer, "Slow, slow-just waiting for the summer dollars to kick in," then he'll go off and serve a customer or wash a rack and 15 minutes later he'll return and say, "How about all that Sosa stuff?" to which I'll reply, "Sammy is dead to me now," and away he goes. It's the perfect conversation tempo for someone stuck inside the paradox of needing to be alone and can't be being alone all at the same time.
But the old angler sitting there ruined all that. Now his hot breath is melting down my ear wax with verbose stories about the afternoon catch, and the 15 that got away, and how his wife Bonnie-quite dead now-used to nag him about his fishing all the time, and who can endure a conversation like that when your everythings had gone into the toilet earlier that day?
Certainly not me. And I sent him every signal in the book to let him know: I stared at the ceiling. I stared at the floor. I looked everywhere but at him. I rubbed my eyes, put my head in my hands and massaged my temple. I put a nose in the Penny Saver, put a quarter on the pool table and blew complacent bubbles through my cocktail straw. I gave him the meanest, obvious-est, "can't you see I hate you?" glare I could muster, and still this guy was just not getting the message.
So I waited for a break in the conversation and, when it came, announced, "I have to go to the bathroom," then guzzled off what amounted to a triple vodka grape and walked off to the head.
Ahhh, the GGB maneuver. It never fails. So you're being bothered an old angler or a sob sister, or worse, some garrulous dilettante sesquipedalian anthropologist is ululating about ecumenist environmental determinism and its effect on the people of the Serengeti? No problem. Just guzzle off your drink and announce proudly, "I can't wait to hear the rest of your fascinating story, good sir, but first I must pee."
Then go off to the bathroom, and never, ever, ever return to that bar stool again. It's a simple yet effective barroom tool.
The only downside is, once you are inside the bathroom, you can't immediately leave. You have to make it look good, so you figure you might as well try and pee. So you unzip, mount the urinal and wait. But nothing comes, because you didn't actually have to go, and now you're just staring blankly at an empty wall with a flaccid, idle penis in your hand, thinking, Look what my life has become.
But enough about what my life has become, I want to know about you. Who are you that would pester the guy sitting on the bar stool next to you with an unsolicited, half-hour lecture about the history of votive candles and not even notice that he is intentionally stabbing olive spears into his eardrums?
Are you really that self involved? Or more to the point, do you lack self awareness? It all starts there, of course. You gotta be self-aware. Which means, loosely, to be aware of the self and its relationship to others-it should really be called, "other-aware," but whatever, that's a whole nuther etymological dig. The point is, a person who is not other-aware always thinks the story he is blubbering is fascinating simply because he is the one telling it. Consequently, he's never receptive to the body language of his audience or sensitive to the notion that maybe their life went in the toilet earlier that afternoon and they just don't give a crud about anything he has to say right now.
Is that you? Well, then stop it.
It was my mother who taught me the first rule of storytelling. That was a long time ago, but it applies today. I remember she was sitting at the kitchen table eating plain yogurt out of the tub as I yammered on about how everything had gone into the toilet at school that day; told her how, during lunch, I dropped my Ring Ding in the dirt and was sad because I really wanted to eat that Ring Ding, and I was trying to wipe it clean, but that just made the Ring Ding worse and... then my mother cut me off in mid-sentence.
"Eddie, dear," she said, with all the maternal warmth of a disembodied motherboard gathering dust on a computer shop workbench, "Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting.
"Remember that you'll get pretty far in life," she added and returned to spooning her yogurt.
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